REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Our Lord says, “It is done”

“He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Reference: Revelation 21:5-7)

It is done. All the prophesies and foretelling has come to fruition. The holy child is laying in the manager, and Mary and Joseph are keeping watch over their sleeping child. The shepherds are coming, and the Wise Men will be following shortly after. The songs and praises of the from the heavenly choirs still ring in the air. And the star of Bethlehem shines on.

It is done. The weeks of shopping and wrapping are over. The Christmas feast is planned and ready to be laid on the table. Friends, neighbors, relatives and honored guests are congregated at tables and in living rooms across the country. Children of all ages are being watched over as presents are unwrapped, oohed and aah-ed over, and enjoyed. And the Christmas decorations twinkling brightly in households across the globe.

It is done. God has sent to us a means for salvation. God’s love has been made manifest in a way that cannot be ignored. And it will not be. It has not been. I doubt there is anyone on any continent that does not know about the Christian faith, even if it is not a faith they profess.

But in a way, it is just the beginning. Soon the new year will be coming. New hopes and new possibilities. Just when you think things have come to an end, they have a habit of beginning again. The writer of Revelation says that the Lord is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. The Lord was there at the beginning and will be there at the end.

What God made manifest over two thousand years ago, we can began telling, believing, and living again and again. The Promise that came through the life and death of Christ will always be renewed. We have been and will be again, children of God.

May this day and this season find you with friends and family, loved ones all. And may the Christ who was born this day many lifetimes away be born in you anew in the coming year. Selah! And the merriest of Christmases!

 

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REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Celebrating the infant Jesus and looking forward to the Lord’s return

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Reference: Revelation 21:2-4 )

There may be thematic appropriateness for these verses being used for this day, the day of Christmas Eve. (Five years ago I was more sure than I am now. This actually a re-working of my thoughts from December 24th 2009.) According to anecdotal stories, Jesus was born early Christmas morning when the star of Bethlehem was at its brightest. This same light could be re-imaged as the light of the new Jerusalem. And these verses also talk about the Divine coming to humanity again as it happened that early Christmas morning – the infant Jesus born in a stable growing to be the Messiah that these verses say said will come again along with the coming of God and the Holy City. Yes, these verses could be a good fit for a Christmas Eve day that anticipates the coming of light from heaven.

It is intriguing to have juxtaposed the coming of the infant Jesus with the coming of the Holy City as a bride to the now grown Christ – if it were not for remembering that the coming of God and Holy City in Revelation means the end of this world. If one were to forget that the coming of God in these verses is the time of judgment. If only one could forget or put aside the images of the battle in heaven and the vengeance of the Lord, the coming of the Holy City could be serene and pastoral.

The world forgets however, at its peril, that the coming of the baby Jesus started a chain of events that the world has not yet seen through to completion. The coming of the baby Jesus is a soft and pastoral scene. And the final day of God when the new Jerusalem, the purified and Holy City, comes down is a day of joy and looking forward to a new way. But in-between there is still mourning, crying, pain and death.

I think this is why, beloved, during Christmas we are encouraged and we encourage others to set aside animosity and hostility, and to focus on love and compassion. It has been a time when nations lay down their military arms and remember our connection to one another. We remind ourselves and others that God sent light to the earth in the form of the baby Jesus. And that some day the Lord will return to complete what was started so long ago.

But that day, I do not think, is this day. This is a day spent waiting for Christ Jesus, who in his tiny hand is clutching hope for the world. May you spend Christmas Eve in joyful wonder and hope, with family and/or friends waiting for our savior to be born anew in our mourning and pain filled world, and in our hearts. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . But can we not find reward in the here and now?

I Esdras saw upon the mount Sion a great people, whom I could not number, and they all praised the Lord with songs. And in the midst of them there was a young man of a high stature, taller than all the rest, and upon every one of their heads he set crowns, and was more exalted; which I marvelled at greatly. So I asked the angel, and said, Sir, what are these? He answered and said unto me, These be they that have put off the mortal clothing, and put on the immortal, and have confessed the name of God: now are they crowned, and receive palms. Then said I unto the angel, What young person is it that crowneth them, and giveth them palms in their hands? So he answered and said unto me, It is the Son of God, whom they have confessed in the world. Then began I greatly to commend them that stood so stiffly for the name of the Lord. “ (Reference: 2 Esdras 2:42-47 )

Five years ago I “passed” on this scripture passage, choosing not to comment on it but instead leave it for my writing partner. This year, as I am the only one writing, it falls to me to comment on this. The historic Anabaptist quoted/excerpted for this day would tell us, as he told his wife, “Thus, my dear wife, follow Christ, and take up your cross with patience and joy, and follow Him all the days of your life, for He had to suffer so much for our sakes, to save us. Therefore let us suffer for His sake; since it is our hour, let us joyfully contend for the crown of life, which is prepared for us and them that fear and love the Lord. Hence let us be satisfied in Him, and take our cross upon us with joyfulness and patience, and wait with firm confidence for the promises which He has made us, and that we may be crowned upon Mount Sion, and adorned with palms, and may follow the Lamb. 2 Esd. 2:42; Rev. 14:4.”

Most of the rewards for the pious seem to come at this end of this world, or at least at the end of their lives. There does not seem to be much “reward” bestowed during this life, or during our lifetimes. And I have to wonder, does every believer consider it to be this way? That rewards from the Divine come only after death or after this world has passed away? It seems a lot to ask to wait.

And I don’t mean that in a whiny impatient way. What I mean is, is there no reward in this life for following God and Christ? Don’t we or can’t we find reward in doing what Christ models and God asks of us? Is it not enough to know one is following God and Christ, or does there have to be a “reward”, a “carrot” dangling at the end of a Divine stick? Does humanity have to have a solid reason for being righteous?

Beloved, I am often dismayed at this “modern” world; but then I am also often dismayed at what the world was like decades and centuries before. I constantly see being kind and caring as a deliberate choice, and chose to be that one on most all occasions – after all, no one that is human is perfect. But altruism is a choice that I consciously make, for reasons that are my own and do NOT depend on getting some reward at the end of this world, or even at the end of my life. And while it is nice that the “pious” are rewarded, my actions that have their foundation in my Christian faith are not dependent on a reward.

May you beloved make good and authentically Christian choices, for whatever your reasons may be. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . Those who remain patient and righteous

You have said harsh things against me, says the LORD . Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’ You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’ Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name. They will be mine, says the LORD Almighty, in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (Reference: Malachi 3:13-18 )

There are several parts to this passage, and it is confusing that they all seem to run together. First, the Lord (through the writer of Malachi) has complaints concerning the way some people talk about the Lord. However when challenged on this they claim not to have spoken against the Lord. But, the Lord counters, you have spoken unfairly and further more claim that the Lord has treated you unfairly. Second, those who truly fear the Lord prayed to the Lord and the Lord heard them. To them the Lord promises that the Lord cares about them and reward them for their faithful belief. Lastly, the Lord says it will be easy to see who is considered righteous before the Lord and who is judged and being wicked.

In reading this passage I can catch a hint of what could be labeled historic Anabaptist thinking. That those who are not practicing correct belief in God seem to be getting away with it for the time being, but their wrong belief will catch up to them. But God has heard the faithful, and they will be rewarded.

It seems to me that one definition of “pious” that can be drawn from this is someone who believes in God despite things going against them; believes that God will at some point claim and reward those who have remained faithful; and that some day it will be easy to tell who is righteous and who is not. As I have said before, it is a matter of being patient.

May you beloved be patient in the Lord and believe that the Lord will reward such patience and righteousness in the fullness of time. Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . By way of the self-understanding of the “pious”

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer. To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD , who has compassion on you.“ (Reference: Isaiah 54:7-10 )

The writer of Isaiah at times seems to take great liberties in personifying God. Five years ago my writing partner at the time said he was uncomfortable with the image presented in this passage of Isaiah. [December 21, 2009] God abandoning the Lord’s people? Becoming angry and hiding the Divine Face? And my writing partner correctly reminded our readers that God did abandon the Lord’s people again after this writing.

And argument could be made that the Lord’s people abandoned God, so their punishment of being abandoned, and then being abandoned again might be considered a deserved one. But this brings to mind a wrathful God. The wrath of God is a frequent image in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it is a kinder and gentler God that has sent Christ. I have heard or read several different theories as to why this is so, and known of them really satisfy me. I have my own idea . . . of course. Well, actually it might be partly mine and partly from other people who have expressed the same discomfort.

The historic Anabaptists did not seem to have any discomfort with this image of God. G. Kleermaecker, wrote about it saying, “Therefore, my dear sister in the Lord, though our God does now hide His face from us for a little while, yet will He gather us again with everlasting kindness, as the prophet says: “I will lead you into mine house, and give you a place within my walls, and a name better than of sons and of daughters; yea, I will give you an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off. Yea, he will lay our stones with fair colors, and lay our foundations with sapphires, and will make our windows of crystal and our gates of carbuncles.” Isa. 54:7, 8; 56:5; 54:11, 12.” It is for this reason, I image, this passage is placed under the theme of “Reward of the Pious.” A theme title such as “Reward of the Patient” might be just as appropriate. If the historic Anabaptist believes that their persecution comes about because God’s face is “hidden” from them, then they might well believe that in time and/or through their death, and if they maintain their devote faith, they might see God’s face again.

But this explanation does not satisfy me any better than any other I have heard. Does this mean that God has hidden the Divine’s Face from those who suffer; but those who are doing well, and safe, and are prospering enjoy the full revelation of the Divine’s Face? You see the problem beloved.

I just don’t know about this God that the writer of Isaiah is personifying. And that is just it, beloved. We are reading the Old Testament writers’ theories and personifications of God. It is being interpreted by human perception through the lens of trying to make sense of what is happening to God’s “chosen” people. I believe it is an erroneous perception that if the people of God are suffering, it must be because God has allowed them to suffer or is setting them up to suffer.

I believe that the faithful will be rewarded; and by a God who has seen and felt every day of their suffering. I do not believe God has ever hidden the Divine Face, but that we have let things block and blind our sight so we cannot see God’s face. And sure, God gets angry about it. What loving Parent or Spouse would not? Your reading of these passages from Isaiah and other parts of the Old Testament may differ from mine. And I welcome your thoughts, ideas and reflections as always. Shalom for your day.

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . It is a comfort

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” (Reference: Isaiah 40:1-2)

Isaiah 40:1-11 is also part of the Revised Common Lectionary for Advent and was the verse I used on December 2nd. I also thought of this verse in conjunction with yesterday’s passage where the focus was on rewards found on God’s “Holy Mountain.”

There are several components of this “comfort” that is to be delivered to Jerusalem. First, it is to be spoken tenderly. In other prophetic writings the writers seem to have God shouting and yelling at Jerusalem, Israel, or Judah. But her the voice of the Lord is to be tender. Second, that while there have been hard times, the hardship is over and has been done successfully and completely. Third, that the hardship has paid for the sin and so beleaguered Jerusalem is now free of sin. Lastly, anything that has been taken away is returned and doubled, so that her loses have been redeemed and her fortunes restored to twice the amount. One can well imagine that this would be news that would comfort.

But this comforting and tender word is not just for Jerusalem but for the faithful who have suffered. It is news especially appropriate for Advent and Christmas, which is why I am sure it is included in the scripture passages in the Revised Common Lectionary.

I am not overly inclined to include what Reading the Anabaptist Bible quotes and excerpts of the writings of historic Anabaptists. It is, quite frankly, a downer and not in keeping with merriment of this season. One would almost think that the historic Anabaptists did not access the joy of Christ’s coming to us, but instead looked forward to their joy of going to Christ through death. Leonhard Schiemer writes, “The oil [of the third grace] is the Holy Spirit. He cannot teach anyone who has not first despaired of all human comfort and wisdom, and has raised the heart to God alone. He comforts and strengthens no one who has not first been terrified [over the soul’s condition] and alienated from all human comfort and strength.” A little further on he writes, “The life of the world has a happy beginning and an eternal mournful end. Our life has a mournful beginning, but then the Holy Spirit comes soon and anoints us with the oil of joy unspeakable. It is not a matter of solitary waiting for the comfort of God, but a Christian should and is able to encourage others and give comfort in tribulation. God speaks through Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her” [Isa. 40:1].”

It is understandable when all around you is suffering and death to look beyond the present reality to what might come. But, beloved, there have been decades and generations of suffering, and there will be more I am sure. There is nothing wrong in finding joy in this life through Jesus and our Lord God. In fact Jesus came to us to give us joy in this life and hope for a life to come. Our joy in the Lord is daily, and so too should our comfort be. May this season bring you comfort and joy beloved! Selah!

REWARD OF THE PIOUS . . . A prayer for the “mountain” to come

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine- the best of meats and the finest of wines.”

Lord, there is so much hunger in the world today. People far away and people close at hand struggle and scramble each day for enough food, and resources to get the food they need. Be with those who hunger and thirst for physical needs. Bless those who supplies those needs as individuals and groups. Prick the conscience of those who have enough and more to share what they have.

On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”

Lord, where there is hunger there is also suffering. Hunger and suffering seem to go hand in hand. War, violence and death speed along hunger and suffering until it overwhelms humanity and creation. Thank you Lord that there will come a day when suffering is done away. When there is no war, where violence is a faded memory, and where death come to no one.

The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.”

We are embarrassed Lord that we who profess to be Christians have allowed things to happen, or have been helpless to stop it. First one person, then another, and then a whole group of people have allowed others to suffer; and we have watched helplessly while suffering has taken country after country. We remember that there were poor and afflicted during your life. You commanded your disciples to care for the poor and needy, the helpless and oppressed. We thank you that some have been helped, and bless those who have reached out to help. We look forward to the day that every tear will be wiped away from each face, and each person’s heart will be filled with joy.

The LORD has spoken. In that day they will say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us.”

Save us Lord! We will rejoice in the day You speak the Holy Word that will end all suffering! On that day we will say . . .

This is the LORD , we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.” (Reference: Isaiah 25:6-9 )